Silence of the Left on Education Reform

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by John Goodman,

from NCPA,

The topic du jour on the left these days is inequality. But why does the left care about inequality? Do they really want to lift those at the bottom of the income ladder? Or are they just looking for one more reason to increase the power of government?

If you care about those at the bottom then you are wasting your time and everyone else’s time unless you focus on one and only one phenomenon: the inequality of educational opportunity. Poor kids are almost always enrolled in bad schools. Rich kids are almost always in good schools.

So what does the left have to say about the public school system? Almost nothing. Nothing? That’s right. Nothing. So I Googled to see if I have missed something. The only thing I found was a negative post about vouchers.

You almost never see anything written by left-of-center folks on reforming the public schools.

Here is the uncomfortable reality:

– Our system of public education is one of the most regressive features of American society.

– There is almost nothing we could do that would be more impactful in reducing inequality of educational opportunity and inequality overall than to do what Sweden has done: give every child a voucher and let them select a school of choice.

– Yet on the left there is almost uniform resistance to this idea or any other idea that challenges the power of the teachers unions.

Over and over again, liberal pundits come up with objections to the idea of school choice. What they completely ignore is that we already have a system of school choice.

How school choice currently works. The vast majority of parents are already participating in a system of school choice. For example, there are 79 school districts within a 50-mile radius of downtown Dallas. Assuming each district has at least two campuses at each grade level, a typical family has a choice of about 158 public schools — provided the parents can afford to buy a house in any neighborhood and are willing to drive a considerable distance to work.

How well does this system work? Better than you might think. … houses near higher-ranking elementary schools sold for about 20 percent more than houses near lower-ranking schools.

If the system works well for those who have money, how does it work for those who don’t? What happens to families who cannot afford to buy a house in an expensive neighborhood? Unfortunately, they’re out of luck.

How liberals view school choice. There have always been some on the left who want to liberate poor children from bad schools. But, sad to say, they are in a distinct minority. Here is Krugman on school choice:

[P]roposals for school vouchers should be critiqued not only on educational or cost-efficiency grounds but also because they raise the risk of a collapse in the political support for public education. (If upper-middle-class families are allowed to “top up” their vouchers with their own money, they will soon realize that it is in their interest to cut the size of the vouchers as much as possible). And-dare we say it? We should in general oppose privatization plans if they are likely to destroy public sector unions. After all, people on the right tend to favor privatization for exactly the same reason.

And what exactly would be wrong if the teachers unions went away? Clearly they view the schools as a jobs program far more than a way of lifting children out of poverty.

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